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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The couvade

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"Couvade" is a word derived from the French "couvade"; "couver" means “incubate” “brood." This ethnographic term designates a rite of sympathetic magic or formula for newborn recognition of newborn, practiced in some villages at the time of the birth of a son; that is a kind of simulation of birth by the father, who lies in the bed with the baby.

This rite or act of sympathetic pregnancy, that today seems to us strange and incomprehensible, is attested with some slight variations in Ancient and Modern  world in Lapland, Melanesia (from Grec.  μέλαν=black and   νῆσος = island; islands inhabited by black ), Borneo, Malaysia, England, France, Brasil (Amazon ...), Germany, etc..

With regard to Antiquity, the first written evidence of which we have knowledge is provided by Apollonius of Rhodes in the third century BC, director of the Library of Alexandría, who in his "Voyage of the Argonauts", referring to the "Tibareni" people of the eastern shore at the Black Sea, "rich in sheep,"  says in the book  II, verses 1012 and ff;:

Here when wives bring forth children to their husbands, the men lie in bed and groan with their heads close bound; but the women tend them with food, and prepare child-birth baths for them.

In Century I.A.C. the historian Diodorus of Sicily  also tells us in his book "Historical Library", Book V, Chapter 14, how Corsicans husbands

Husbands are not careful of their women when they are in childbirth , and when they give birth is the husband who lies in bed.

and then the father receives congratulations  and  compliments from family and friends while his wife was engaged in the tasks of their role in the family.

If these statements are inherently interesting, for Spanish  people is especially important information offered by the Greek geographer, on Roman times, a contemporary of Diodorus, Strabo. He wrote about the year 20 AD a famous work, Geography, in which he describes the regions and peoples of the Roman Empire from Asia to the British Isles. Book III is devoted to the Iberian Peninsula and its peoples and in 3.4.17 says about Cantabrian women:

as well as the valour not only of their men, but likewise of their women. These till the ground,2 and after parturition, having put their husbands instead of themselves to bed, they wait upon them. Frequently in their employment they wash and swathe their infants, sitting down by some stream.

and adds, do not know if in awe, or stunned by the rudeness of these women, how to continue their usual work.

Often several authors claim that this custom was preserved until recently in some regions of Spain, such as Galicia, Asturias, Burgos, Leon, Aragon. These to Spain referred  statements   must be subjected to a thorough review and  serious critique because  their lack of sufficient justification.

In any case we must find a meaning or sense to this custom existing in so different places and regions. The ethnologists, historians, philosophers and psychologists have offered various interesting explanations.

Traditionally the text of Strabo was considered proof of the existence of matriarchy  in Cantabrian populations. Modern criticism  does not value it so and considers that the text, somewhat inaccurate, reveals the lack of understanding by Strabo of some customs  so different and distant from the civilized Roman and Greek customs and in any case it is insufficient to confirm the existence of a time of matriarchy.

Strabo  was attracted attention  by the courage and strength of Cantabrian women and by the fact that  they were   who transmitted the inheritance and married their brothers, while a brother, the uncle, Latin avunculus, was who wielded the authority over children . It is curious how the importance of the role played by the Uncle  is  extended and  has remained  to modern times.

The interpretation until recently most accepted is the one formulated by the Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen en1861. He related this practice to an alleged existing matriarchy in the Neolithic and the transition to a patriarchal system. The myth of the Amazons and the couvade were to him the evidence of the prior existence of matriarchy.

The couvade is a rite of acceptance of paternity and legitimation of the newborn. In the matriarchy would women as family head, who legitimizes and decides on the acceptance of the children, now with male couvade or birth simulation is essential  the acceptance by the father, without which the newborn is not incorporates to the family. This is in summary an express public recognition of paternity, the role of the father and of the new being as his son. (Recall how on the Roman  is the  “paterfamilias” who formally accepts newborn.) With these rites would be denied  the matriarchy or “gynecocracy” (from γυνή, gyne- woman and κράτος, kratos, power; women government) as Strabo says using an exact terminology.  Bachofen's theory has been enormously successful.

For some authors patriarchy have been introduced in villages whit matriarchal culture, but this is a supposition or theory difficult to accept, especially after Malinowski studies.

The anthropologist Malinowski studied the "matrilineal" societies of New Guinea, in which only is recognized the matrilineal descent, and saw how power is wielded by the man, but in the figure of the maternal uncle or "avunculus" in Latin.

In a sense absolutely contrary to Freud, the psychoanalyst Walter Georg Groddeck believes that women do not feel the "male penis envy ", but is the man who  feels himself incomplete woman  and therefore has the "envy of the uterus.  The covada not express but the desire to give birth.

Man describes medical syndrome known as "couvade syndrome" or sympathetic pregnancy, which manifests itself in a state of anxiety empathic father to the birth of the child, which may have to do with the so-called "empathy neurons" and that explain its existence in the past and in the present.

An interesting insight is one of the Chic Genaro: what  the couvade  would mean is the consideration of women as mere incubator or nest for the child in front of the parent generating position; and with it is so absolutely discredited the theory of the existence of a matriarchy in which  that power was held by the wife.

Even some relate to this ancient practice the modern custom by which the father accompanies  the mother during birht  and  collaborates with his positive attitude, but this healthy practice has another meaning   when births in hospitals and maternity wards impersonal medical safety guarantee, but separates the so transcendent fact from all family context.

It appears that this theme of "couvade" and its branches to the "matriarchy" are not sufficiently studied. In any case is once again highlighted the difficulty of interpreting the meaning of the ancient texts, children  of his time and of a particular  context.
 

   
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